Summer fruit in this area of the country is a long time coming. Sure, we’ve had rhubarb for a few weeks now, but can rhubarb, in all its puckery a tart glory, really be counted as a summer fruit? If you toss rhubarb with a lot of sugar, it can do some mighty fine things, but, straight from the ground, eating it is going to cause you some serious malcontent. With those parameters in mind, I am sorry to say that I just don’t think rhubarb is going to make the cut. So what do we do here in Portland when we want to eat our first local summer fruit? We wait for the strawberries.
It’s been a cold, wet, and (let’s be honest) semi-miserable spring and summer, but our fortitude seems to have paid off. Fresh strawberries began to show up at the farmers market just a few short weeks ago and, just last week, strawberries made their arrival in our home garden. Despite the slow start our garden suffered in its beginning stages, a very short burst of warm weather seems to have coaxed some of our fruit into vibrant life, rewarding us with, upon our first harvest, 3 pounds of strawberries. Not a typo. 3 pounds.
And then, four days later, we harvested another 3 pounds. Two days after that came another 2 pounds. We are swimming in sweet, juicy berries, and I could not be happier.
There have been strawberries in our granola, strawberries in our yogurt, strawberries straight from the plant, strawberries on leftover biscuits, and, in what I now realize I subconsciously created as a bit of a strawberry coming out celebration after we harvested our first basket of berries, this astonishingly good strawberry and lemon cream trifle, which, besides tasting somewhat like a heavenly dream, also happens to look quite like one.
Until it comes time to serve it, that is. Upon being released from its pristine confines, this wonderful dessert morphs into a sloppy, goopy mess that, were one determining dessert worthiness purely by looks alone, certainly would not be in the running to win any beauty pageants.
But, if we are to continue with this pageant metaphor, let us all remember that true beauty is not represented by what one sees on the outside, but rather what one possess on the inside, which in this case happens to be fresh garden strawberries, lush lemon cream, and soft peaks of whipped cream, all nestled in between layers of a delectable semolina cake that, unlike the cake layers in many a trifle I have eaten, will not succumb to a soggy and spongy fate when inundated with a veritable flood of delicious creams. Combine those virtues, and you’ve got what I consider to be a dessert that qualifies as a true and deserving winner.
Strawberry and Lemon Cream Trifle
Orange Semolina Cake
If you want to go all lemon with this trifle, you can certainly swap out freshly squeezed lemon juice for the orange juice, though I find that the subtle orange flavor of this cake is a welcome addition to the overall composition of the trifle. (I previously wrote about this cake recipe here.)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 cups fine semolina
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
4 eggs, separated
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ cup orange juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour an 8” x 8” square cake pan. Place flour, baking powder, and semolina in a bowl and mix to combine. Combine sugar and orange zest in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender, and pulse to combine thoroughly. Place egg yolks, orange-sugar mixture, and oils in a bowl and beat until well combined. Fold egg yolk mixture into flour mixture with orange juice.
Place egg whites in a bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Fold egg whites into flour and egg yolk mixture and pour into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until cake is lightly browned on top and a wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool cake in pan for ten minutes, then release onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Adapted from Tartine
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) of freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
¾ cup (6 ounces) sugar
pinch of salt
½ cup (4 ounces or 1 stick) cool unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces
Bring about 2 inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan set over medium heat. In a non-reactive bowl that is able to rest securely in the rim of the saucepan without touching the water, combine lemon juice, whole eggs, egg yolk, sugar, and salt. Whisk the ingredients together. Do not allow the egg yolks and sugar sit together without being stirred constantly, as the sugar will react with the eggs and turn them granular. Place the bowl over the saucepan of simmering water and continue to whisk for around 10-12 minutes, until the mixture thickens considerably and reaches a temperature of 180 degrees F. Remove the bowl from above the water and allow the mixture to cool to 140 degrees F. Stir from time to time to help the mixture cool and release its heat.
When the cream has reached 140 degrees, pour it into a blender, or leave it in the bowl if you will be using an immersion blender to mix the lemon cream. Add the butter to the lemon cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, blending the mixture continuously until each piece of butter is completely incorporated before you add the next one. The cream will be pale yellow and quite thick.
The lemon cream can be used immediately, or it can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator, tightly sealed, for up to 5 days. Makes about 2 cups of lemon cream.
1 cup (8 ounces) heavy whipping cream
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, whip on low speed until sugar and vanilla have dissolved. Increase mixer speed to high, and whip until cream forms soft peaks.
Assemble the Trifle
You will need 1 pound of strawberries, each berry hulled and sliced in half from top to bottom.
When cake has cooled, cut it in half so you have two pieces that measure 8” x 4.” You will only need half of the cake, so tightly wrap the unused half and store it for later use or enjoyment. Then cut the remaining 8” x 4” piece in half horizontally, separating the top from the bottom.
Line the bottom of a trifle dish, or a similarly-sized glass bowl with a flat bottom (I used a 1.75 quart Pyrex storage dish, and found that I could have benefited from a dish that was taller and allowed for a bit more security of the top layers) with 1/3 of the cake layers, cutting the cake into strips and pieces as needed to fill in as much of the bottom space as possible. Spoon 1/3 of the lemon cream mixture on top of the cake layer. Spoon 1/3 of the strawberries on top of the lemon cream. Spoon 1/3 of the whipped cream on top of the strawberries. Repeat layering process one more time. When you get to the third layer, deviate slightly from the layering order by first making a cake layer, followed by a lemon cream layer, then a whipped cream layer, then a strawberry layer. Laying the strawberries on top of the cake, rather than under a layer of whipped cream, simply looks prettier.
Chill the trifle well before serving. Trifle can be made ahead and left to wait in the refrigerator, fully assembled, for up to 1 day.
This trifle should serve at least 10 people very generously. I’d tell you how long leftovers can last in the refrigerator, but ours was completely demolished within 2 days, leaving me to only guess as to how long it could last past that. I’d say no longer than 3 or 4 days, but I’ll bet yours will be gone long before that as well.